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Game of Thrones hits another ratings high with its penultimate episode

By Matthew Jackson
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5

With just one episode to go, more people are watching Game of Thrones live than ever before. For its penultimate episode, the divisive showdown that is "The Bells," the HBO megahit drew 12.48 million live linear viewers for its first viewing alone. That's a new high for Game of Thrones, besting the 12.07 million live viewers for the Season 7 finale "The Dragon and the Wolf" in 2017, according to The Hollywood Reporter

Four of the five episodes that have aired in the six-episode final season so far now rank in the top five most-watched Game of Thrones episodes ever among live viewers, and their numbers get even more impressive when you factor in streaming numbers and people who are watching the show's encore broadcasts later in the night. 

Right now, the most-watched Game of Thrones episode ever in terms of one-night viewing is "The Long Night," the third episode of Season 8 which featured the much-hyped Battle of Winterfell. That episode ended up with 17.8 million total viewers when streaming numbers for Sunday night were added in.

It's followed closely by the Season 8 premiere, "Winterfell," which earned 17.4 million total same-night viewers. We still don't have streaming numbers for "The Bells" (we'll update you when we do), but if the episode gets a similar bump to other Season 8 broadcasts we could be looking at more than 18 million viewers in one night for the penultimate episode of the series. 

Those are impressive numbers for any show, but particularly for a premium cable drama. Game of Thrones dwarfed the closest competition on Sunday night, ABC's American Idol, which came in with just under eight million viewers. That's in part because no one wants to counter-program the final episodes of Game of Thrones, but it's also just a testament to this show's power that it's still appointment television in an era when people are increasingly watching shows whenever they get to them instead of a programming schedule. 

Now that we know just how big "The Bells" was, we can turn our eyes to this Sunday's massive series finale, which is sure to be required live viewing for every Game of Thrones fans who's able to cram themselves into living rooms. It seems almost guaranteed that the series finale will become the new most-watched episode of the show. Now, we just have to see how many viewers will tune in. 

Game of Thrones will air its final episode Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.